I'd like to give a shoutout to the random GTA Online player who consoled me with a round of golf while the GTA Trilogy was unplayable last weekend. After spending all day Friday revelling in my return to a prettier and polished San Andreas on PC, I had planned to steal a few more hours with the Grove Street gang on Saturday night, while my kids were in bed and my girlfriend watched Strictly Come Dancing. Instead, with the game pulled entirely from the Rockstar Launcher due to "files unintentionally included in these versions", I found myself sulking on the fairways of the Los Santos links, frustrated and disappointed.
And if the chat in the multiple PC servers I frequented over the course of the evening is anything to go by, I was not alone. Add that to the dozens of would-be players calling for refunds on social media, as well as the catalogue of bugs, glitches, and meme-worthy character models the GTA: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition appears to have shipped with, and I think it's safe to say: it has not been the smoothest of launches for the latest addition to the Rockstar family.
"Well, it's definitely been a poor launch," says GTAKid, a staff member, admin, and moderator within the popular and longstanding fansite communities, GTANet.com and GTAForums. "It's created a lot of division in the community."
GTAKid says those divisions are among players who have been impressed with the three games' reworked visuals, who are happy to wait until the problems are ironed out behind the scenes; and those who were understandably upset at not being able to access a product they've paid money for. As of the early hours on Monday, the PC versions of all three games – GTA 3, Vice City and San Andreas – were back online and available, however GTAKid suggests a lack of communication on Rockstar's part made that three-day wait over last weekend more difficult than it needed to be.
"With PC, it was the situation where modders were straight in looking at the files on this version, they found obviously unintended game files, such as developer commentary and music that Rockstar might not have the licence to use," GTAKid continues. "As soon as Rockstar realised their mistake, that they'd pushed these files to everybody, they decided to take down all of their services on PC – so that no one could access the trilogy, but also GTA Online and Red Dead Online when the launcher was down, and some people weren't even able to launch the games that they owned."
"Rockstar Support first said the launcher was down for 'maintenance', which tells you nothing. Some of the community have been very vocal about being unimpressed with the final product, and also Rockstar and Take Two's decisions over the last few years."
In recent years, Take Two has shuttered a number of player-made mod projects, which appears to have aggravated some facets of the GTA community in light of the Trilogy's turbulent launch. For GTAKid, some players are in turn losing faith in the people responsible for their favourite games, and are often left wondering why some mod projects are allowed to grow and thrive, while others face the chopping block via DMCA takedown orders and, in the most extreme cases, lawsuits.
GTAKid says that, overall, he understands the backlash from players, but likewise well-understands how quickly things can and often do escalate in online spaces. As a result, he and his peers at GTANet have begun drafting bug report threads for all three Trilogy games across all platforms – not as a means of adding fuel to the fire, but the opposite: to cut through the noise, the irrationalities and, perhaps, to provide Rockstar and the Trilogy's developer, Grove Street Games, with a helpful resource moving forward.
"One of the things I've been able to see as the GTAForums moderator is plenty of, how should we say, overblown comments," GTAKid adds. "When it comes to issues in these games, people lash out in frustration in the comments. And that's not helpful. What I wanted to do, alongside (fellow admins) Spider-Vice and Kirsty, was to make these bug reporting threads, where we can have an actual proper approach to documenting the bugs and issues in these games. These may help the developers, if they check our lists and then implement fixes, but the lists also keep track of what issues we've experienced as we've been playing the game."
"I've been playing GTA 3 on PS5 and I've been really enjoying it. The work that's been done to the environments in particular, the buildings, the landscapes, really it's fantastic work. You can see that the team at Grove Street Games have put in all this effort with the little details too – one thing I've been particularly impressed with is going around Liberty City and seeing garages with extra little props adding in, which just makes the world feel so much more alive and vibrant."
"I suppose the issue for some people, then, is that these technical issues can overshadow the whole experience. I'm personally enjoying it, the issues that I've experienced are minor, but seeing people on platforms like Nintendo Switch that can't complete missions because of issues in the game, that's not good. My personal opinion is that the project might have needed a little bit more time in development. Or perhaps the team needed to just work on one game for now, like GTA 3, and release the others on their respective anniversaries."
Own worst enemy
In the 20 years since the arrival of GTA 3 on PlayStation 2, Rockstar has mastered pre-release hype and blockbuster delivery to the point where the company's name precedes anything it puts out, and it no longer needs to attend mainstream video games expos, such as E3 and Gamescom. This is evidenced by the fact Grand Theft Auto 5 has spanned three whole console generations, driven by the seemingly perpetual success of its online counterpart, GTA Online. Headline updates to the latter, such as the Doomsday Heist of 2017, the After Hours update of 2018, and last year's Cayo Perico island adventure – developed and launched during the height of a global pandemic – show the machine in full working order.
Which, of course, makes the chaotic release of Grove Street Games' GTA Trilogy jar a little more than it otherwise might have, had the issues been tied to a different game or series, from a different parent studio.
"Certainly on our side, GTA games have brought us together over the last 20 years. And we're always excited about Rockstar and the projects they release," GTAKid continues. "Every time you hear about a new project from Rockstar, like the Trilogy, you go in with these high expectations, you're hoping that it's going to be a smooth launch, that the product is going to have that level of polish that you're used to from the company."
"What's ended up happening is people are left unable to access their games, those who have access are having issues with bugs and crashes, and I suppose it's just that disappointment of remembering what these games were 20 years ago, being so excited to go back in and experience them again, and then for so many people that just hasn't been possible for reasons out of their control."
For what it's worth, I'm very much in the same camp as GTAKid, in that I've absolutely loved my time revisiting these classic Grand Theft Auto games – especially GTA: San Andreas. But that can't detract from the disappointment of being unable to play over the weekend, and also doesn't address Rockstar's decision-making and communication in the matter. A little more besides generic customer service speak from the company's support account on Twitter would have been helpful, for example; as would allowing players who'd already downloaded the game – and thus will still, in theory, have access to the files Rockstar is keen to brush under the carpet – to maintain access throughout.
With all of this said, I'm pleased that the GTA Trilogy is now back online across all platforms, and I've since enjoyed catching up some more with Ryder, Big Smoke, and Sweet in the heart of the Grove. As yet, I've been fortunate enough to avoid any bugs whatsoever – be that of the superficial or game-breaking variety. If you stumble across any technical issues while playing yourself, you might consider popping them into one of GTAKids' helpful bug fixing threads.
And if you're keen to find out how I got on playing golf with that random GTA Online player, he beat me by five strokes in the end. And then I beat him at arm wrestling. And then I beat him at tennis. And then I beat him up with my fists. Hey, don't judge, I had to vent my trilogy-related frustrations somehow.
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